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Edinburgh is the UK’s ‘second city’ for eating and drinking. It may not be on the same scale as London (its population doesn’t even reach half a million), but with five Michelin-starred restaurants and a distinguished supporting cast of eateries and bars, it’s simply streets ahead of anywhere else. Capital status and the celebrated festival month of August – when the city transforms itself into a world-class cultural centre – play no small part in supporting its buoyant food and drink scene.
Edinburgh is blessed with a couple of chefs who can mix it with the best of them when it comes to groundbreaking contemporary cuisine. Paul Kitching at 21212 creates dishes with a combination of flavours and visual appeal witnessed nowhere else in Scotland – you might almost call it art. Meanwhile, his near namesake Tom Kitchin at The Kitchin (pictured, left) is a provenance man. His slogan ‘from nature to plate’ is no vain boast, but a philosophy that informs everything he does, giving his food a unique seasonal vibrancy. This helped Kitchin win the BMW Square Meal award for Best UK Restaurant 2011.
Food aside, Edinburgh is also an ideal place to explore the wonders of single malt whisky, and the best specialist pub for sampling a dram or two is the Bow Bar. Down a cobbled street in the atmospheric Old Town, it’s small and functional but the whisky list is exceptional & the approachable staff really know their ‘uisge beatha’. If cocktails are more your thing, head to Bramble; housed in a discreet Queen Street basement, it parades its dedication to quality spirits and creative mixology in surroundings that have a louche boho appeal.
Over on a New Town side street, Iglu (pictured, right) hardly announces itself with a fanfare either – a modest, modern pub with a dining room upstairs. The bistro-style food is local, organic and seasonal, but with commendable attention to detail. Nearby, you’ll also find Kay’s, a pub with a pedigree dating to the early 19th century. Small, distinguished and one of the city’s better real-ale bars, it’s a civilised place to spend a quiet, off-piste afternoon.
Often it seems like the world has descended on Edinburgh during the August festival season. Tourists, locals and celebrities rub shoulders in restaurants, pubs and temporary, pop-up bars across the city. Granted, you’re not likely to find yourself sipping a pint next to the principals from the National Ballet of China but ‘that comedian off the telly’ is a different matter.
One of the prime locations for star spotting is the Pleasance Courtyard (60 The Pleasance, EH8 9TJ; box office 0131 556 6550), a warren of performance spaces with a number of bars and lots of scope for alfresco drinking. Assembly at George Square (George Square, EH8 9LH; box office: 0131 623 3030) offers similar opportunities and makes use of tents in George Square Gardens as well as more traditional indoor spaces nearby – again with assorted bars. Close to George Square you find the Gilded Balloon at Teviot (Teviot Row House, 13 Bristo Square, EH8 9AJ; box office: 0131 622 6552; pictured, left) – another major Fringe venue with various shows, bars and lots of well-known faces passing through. It also hosts the legendary Late’n’Live comedy gig, which goes on well into the wee small hours.